Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem. Exaudi orationem meam; ad te omnis caro veniet. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Friday, February 12th, 2123; 8:00 a.m.
She'd slept badly last night. She'd tried to rest, but it wouldn't come. She'd start to doze off and images grinning skulls lit from within, or of garish clown-faces with far too many teeth, or of oily black shapes that oozed blood, would appear and startle her back awake. She'd paced, read, even wrote some in her journal, but it didn't help. A huge machine, grinding away, changing the world the moment she turned her back, twisting her fellow XSWAT officers into horrific shapes, dominated her dreams, whispering her in the depths of sleep.
A shower, as hot as she could stand, helped only a little. Breakfast was out of the question, she had no appetite, not now, now with the Entity smell still so fresh in her memory. The CRASH Team had the day off, which didn't help. She hadn't planned for this and now felt almost helpless, with no idea what to do. But the Lieutenant had said he would be in.... Which might be just the thing. He was a ten-year veteran of the force; perhaps he knew how to deal with the dreams and the images that wouldn't go away. Where was her datapad?
* * * * *
TO: Mitch Brogan (email@example.com)
FROM: Chrysine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Per your offer, I would like to speak to you if possible. When would be a good time to meet you at the station?
Thank you for your consideration,
XSWAT, CRASH Team
TO: Chrysine (email@example.com)
FROM: Mitch Brogan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A bit before noon would be just fine. See you then. And I'll owe you one. Lunch is on me.
* * * * *
The Jungle was having a typical busy Friday—the front lobby was crowded with APD and XSWAT officers and the typical collection of perps, suspects, victims, and witnesses. She nodded to the desk sergeant on the way in and flashed her ID, then headed for the CRASH team's squad room. Deeper in it was quieter, calmer even, although Chrysine's sharp ears detected the sound of some kind of festivity coming from the APD Vice offices.
Taking a deep breath, Chrysine stood straight and tapped on the door to the squad room. "Lieutenant Brogan, sir? You in?" In fact, he wasn't, as the slowly opening door proved. She ducked her head in, glanced around and felt at a loss.
But luck, or good fortune, was with her, as she spotted Lieutenant Brogan coming down the hallway from the direction of the noise she'd heard on her way in. He appeared to be in good spirits, although a bit harried, as usual. "Hey, Chrysine. Glad you're here—gave me a reason to duck out of that mess," he hooked a thumb over his shoulder, "before things got too crazy. Why don't you tell me what's on your mind over lunch? I gotta get outta here."
Once again she felt like she was one step behind everyone else. Out in the field is was one thing, she knew her job and knew what to do. In fact, she almost relished the appearance of Halloweeners or the Yakuza. With them everything was simple—fight or die. But here, in a more normal "social" setting, she always felt slightly at a loss.
"Yessir," she replied, almost to Lieutenant Brogan's back as he ducked into the squad room. She followed, making sure to close the door behind her. Leaving it open was a sure-fire invitation to someone unwanted showing up. "Is... ah... something wrong?"
He grinned mischievously. "Nope. Mission accomplished. You know my Mom's APD, right? I just came from her retirement party, and meeting you for lunch gave me the perfect excuse to leave before... uh, never mind, it's a long story." In response to Chrysine's bemused expression, Mitch explained, "Like I said, I owe you one. Is Cajun alright with you? There's this Cajun place... they won't look for me there."
He grabbed his old bomber jacket and helmet as he spoke, and Chrysine realized Mitch planned on leaving the Jungle immediately. If she wanted to talk, she'd have to go along, but apparently, she was invited. "Where ever you are going is fine, sir. Will we be taking the Squad spinner?"
He shook his head. "Negative. "We're off duty today." Mitch pulled a pair of aviator shades out of his jacket. "You'll need these. Technically you should have a helmet, but we're not going far."
Taking the sunglasses, Chrysine looked at them for a moment. "Helmet, sir? Why would I need a helmet?"
"Ah, you won't... we're taking a short ride today. Don't worry, you'll be fine." With a shrug she donned the shades and pushed her long hair back over her shoulders. She was dressed in her typical off-duty clothes; one-piece jumpsuit cut for her tail (a popular mode of dress in Rhor Sector), boots (useful in the Angelus winter), and a long coat. "How do I look?"
He stepped back and looked at her for a moment, then nodded approvingly. Chrysine naturally posed an intimidating figure—except for the eyes. Her designers had made her eyes almost too beautiful. With the shades hiding them, she looked altogether formidable. "Hmm. When Didi takes you shopping, you might tell her you want a pair of those. Two pair—one for work, and another for... whenever."
"Yeah, whenever you like. Alright, let's go."
"Yessir." They walked down to the parking lot, where Mitch got on his bike and started it up. He noticed Chrysine's hesitation. "A little outside our comfort zone, are we?" He grinned. "It's okay. Had this machine twelve years now, not a scratch on her." He offered Chrysine his helmet and held out a hand for the shades he'd loaned her. "We can trade if you'd like."
Chrysine glanced at the helmet and her ears dipped. "I do not think that will fit me, sir."
Mitch looked at her, then the helmet. What was he thinking? "Heck with it." He strapped it on the back of the bike, lifted the seat and got his spare shades. Now he and Chrysine had matching eye-wear. "Much better."
Behind her sunglasses Chrysine gave her commander an appraising look. He seemed more than a bit 'off' today. Had yesterday's events affected him as well? Or was it something else? "Are you okay sir?"
"Foot-in-mouth syndrome." Mitch patted the seat behind him. "C'mon, let's go."
"If you say so sir."
Mitch and Chrysine arrived at a back-alley restaurant after a brief motorcycle-trip through X'inlau. The 'place to go' for Cajun cuisine in Epsilon sector turned out to be a hole-in-the-wall diner called "Crawdaddy's”. On the outside, it sort of looked like a disgusting pit, but on the inside, it really was a disgusting pit. The food, however, was authentic, and as far as Mitch knew, the best Cajun dining in Angelus. Or at least the hottest.
The tall Clade wrinkled her nose and wrapped her tail protectively around her waist. Her ears folded back as she looked down at Brogan. "Sir, I do not think they will like me here."
The manager, a greasy-looking young suit, came out while they waited for a table, looking nervously at Chrysine, then at Mitch. The man was stammering something about 'not wanting any trouble' when Mitch opened up his riding jacket, just enough for the manager to see the XSWAT badge inside. He spoke very quietly, but Chrysine heard everything. "I'm here to have lunch, with my associate. And I know you don't want trouble. So we'll have that table by the front window." They were seated half a minute later.
Once the manager had taken their orders and gone back to the kitchen, Mitch looked at Chrysine. "Sorry about that."
She gave a slight shrug. "I have become used to it sir. If in uniform, people are intimidated by the badge. If out, they are intimidated by my being a Clade. Everyone fears that which they do not understand."
"Well... what's on your mind, Officer Chrysine? You wanted to see me about something?"
"Ahhh... yes sir." Brogan waited for something more as Chrysine absently shredded a napkin and then gazed out of the grimy window. Finally, she spoke. "How do you do it sir?"
"Remain so calm."
Mitch froze with his glass raised halfway to his mouth, staring wide-eyed at Chrysine for a moment before recovering and putting down his drink. "I... uh...." He winced and ran a hand through his hair. "Chrysine, you seem pretty calm yourself... okay, look, you wanna know the secret?"
He drew in a breath, doubtful his answer would satisfy her. "You accept responsibility for a squad of rookies, and a mission to take on the most dangerous supernatural criminals in Angelus. Everybody's watching, from the rookies, right on up to the Director. If you panic, or lose control, there'll be casualties, they'll be preventable, and everyone'll know why it happened. I guarantee you'll keep your cool, at least in public."
It was that last bit, 'at least in public', that had Mitch worried. Admitting to Chrysine that he wasn't as 'calm' as he pretended to be was risky, but she had already proven herself trustworthy, as far as he was concerned.
The clear blue eyes he'd thought so beautiful turned icy for a moment as she stared at him in silence. Brows furrowed, the Clade's ears flicked back and stayed down. "What about when you are at home. Do you sleep well at night? Or do you keep thinking about the people... the fellow officers you could not save. Who you saw die before you after being tortured by the..." She broke visual contact, making Mitch feel like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, to glance at the far end of the room "...enemy." The napkin was so much powder and as she sat back she left her knife, neatly folded over and then over again, amid the cloud of fragments.
Mitch sighed heavily, resting his crossed arms on the table. "Chrysine, this is what Entities do—when they take over a person's body, it's nearly always fatal. And for as long as there've been Entities, we've had to deal with power-hungry maniacs who think they can bargain with or control them." He stopped, waited for her to look at him, then continued, "That's why we're here, Officer Chrysine. XSWAT's primary mission. The Crash Team's no different... if there are Entities involved, we're all XSWAT."
Then he shrugged. "But yeah, it still gives me nightmares once in a while. Sometimes I just need a stiff drink, you know?"
"Yes. No... I do not know sir." Her ears stayed down, and Mitch could hear a rhythmic thumping sound he realized was her tail lashing against the seat. "I can almost understand an Entity, because all they do is eat and we are just another form of food. But what I cannot understand... what I cannot comprehend is what Captain Brogan's squad must have gone through. To be held captive like that... tortured, and then put into that machine...." Her voice cracked as she trailed off. "They intend to kill us all the same way, do they not?"
"No, not all of us, Chrysine." Mitch looked across the table in disbelief—the Clade warrior had always seemed solid as a rock, and here she was, apparently just about to fall apart on him. "I'm pretty sure the officers who died all had one thing in common—previous contact with Entities. And the Crash Team officers they've tried to capture alive—Hemelshot and Tsanthos—are also in that category. You and I, they probably just want to kill."
"Or remove from existence." Chrysine looked up, "The Destiny Engine is meant to change reality. They want to change the world to suit their needs. A world that will not include us. They might not only try to kill you and I, but make it so we never existed in the first place." She paused and took a drink of water, staring into the glass as she continued. "It is a war then. A war in which we can make no mistakes, no second guesses, in which I must show them no mercy...." She looked up. "How many must we kill before the threat is gone?"
Mitch permitted himself a moment's pause, elbow on the table, hand to his forehead. I knew there'd be conversations like this... but not with her. "Chrysine, if they remove us from existence, we won't even know it happened... I think." He shook his head in confusion, then looked her squarely in the eyes, a worried expression on his face. "The past two weeks, you always seemed so collected, I... just figured you'd be okay, Chrysine. And now I see, I had it all wrong, and you're hurting. So... I'll help any way I can. You really wanna know how to deal with all this?"
"I want to be able to sleep at nights. If I can."
Mitch nodded knowingly. "Chrysine, it sounds like you're either taking the job home with you, or letting it follow you there. I learned a long time ago, if you don't separate your personal life from your work life, it'll drive you crazy. So tell me, what are you doing in your spare time to take your mind off... everything?"
Chrysine had to wonder how a man kept his work and personal life separate after marrying his commanding officer. Was the Lieutenant ever going to start making sense?
"On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I spend two hours at the gym," she started, ticking off the days with her fingers. "On Tuesdays and Thursdays I read, Saturdays I go out shopping for anything I need, and Sundays I clean the apartment." She paused and her ears twitched, "Should I be doing something else?"
"Hmmm..." Mitch sounded thoughtful. "Chrysine, you can do whatever you like when you're not working. My advice: take time for yourself, and spend time with people you care about. Take up a sport instead of working out, one that's competitive—you'll meet more people. And read something fun besides philosophy; maybe join a book club. Find out what the other girls on the Crash Team are doing." He shrugged. "You might consider dating—best distraction of all."
"I was teaching at the academy," Chrysine started. "Armed combat. Should I go back to that?" She paused and looked thoughtful. "Perhaps I can ask the others tomorrow night for suggestions. But I do not know if their advice will help. I have never dated."
"I think you need a little less work in your life, not more." He shook his head quickly. "Chrysine, it sounds like you need a change, and yes, I'll bet the girls would love to help you. Don't wait 'til tomorrow—they'd like to take you shopping before then. A little 'retail therapy' couldn't hurt. But what do mean you've never dated?" Mitch looked a bit skeptical about this.
"What I said. I have never dated. I have never been with a man." she replied. "Some of my sisters in the arena spent time with prominent backers and sponsors, but I never did. I think I was too intimidating."
"I see..." Mitch kept his 'poker face' on—he was on thin ice here. "It's not always easy, Chrysine, but having a partner—I mean in your personal life, not at work—really changes things." He looked out the window for a moment. "As if I'm anyone to give relationship advice. Anyway, think about that—if you want, I might be able to help you. Maybe we'll find someone who's not so easily intimidated."
On the outside, Mitch kept his cool. Inwardly, he began bracing himself. Take a lab full of chemicals. Remove all the labels. Pick two at random and... mix cautiously. Who knows what could happen?
"Hmm. Don't know if you've noticed, but I think Dave Cho kinda likes you, Chrysine. Actually, he was something of an admirer back in your Lace and Steel days." He watched Chrysine very carefully, trying to gauge her reaction. Normally, she seemed very composed, in her own way fairly difficult to read, but today, Chrsyine seemed a bit more open. Mitch wondered if that meant she was 'loosing it' or if she was 'reaching out.' He was just barely getting the 'squad leader' thing, and now he was supposed to be some kind of therapist, too? Damn, I hope this works....
She sighed. "So are a lot of others. All they see was what the screen showed. They do not think, or care, about what went on when the camera was not there." She looked at Mitch and he could see the sadness in her eyes. "Which is why I asked you about what happened last night. I cannot stop thinking about what might have been happening before we were there. Tell me, Lieutenant, why did the Order only rescue your father. Why not all of the squad. And if we are ever captured as well, will anyone come for us?"
"Well, that's the Order for you. They're convinced my Old Man's 'possessed' and they've been trying to get him, or his next of kin, to consent to an exorcism for ten years. They saw an opportunity and they took it." Mitch sneered in disgust. "Their priorities are all screwed up."
He reached across the table, resting one hand on top of hers—the hand which had folded up her knife like so much origami. "There's no way they're capturing you, or anyone else on the Team, Chrysine." Mitch somehow looked determined and worried at the same time. "I won't let anything happen to my girls..." His eyes rolled. "...or Nic. If that happened, I'd go into Omega, back to the Grinder, or to Ryuzo's stronghold to find you. Promise. And if they get us all, yes, there'll be someone else looking."
"Such as your wife?"
He crossed his arms and growled, "Well, she'd better... this whole project was her idea. Then there's the Old Man. I had to go see him first thing this morning." For the first time, she saw at least a little of her own distress reflected in Mitch's face. "It wasn't good, Chrysine...."
Ears flat in sympathy, she looked down at her hands. "I can only imagine... but I would rather not. To lose all of your people in such a manner... to be helpless to defend or assist them...." She looked back up, her expression grim, "This will not end until one or the other is dead, will it?"
"That's the deal. I'm no match for him, Chrysine, but somehow I have to bring him down." Mitch returned her gaze. "And like you, I wonder how many others, on both sides, will die before it's over. I've got four funerals to attend—and it's just starting."
"We sir." Chrysine gave a nod. "I will be there as well."
"Very good, Chrysine. Thank you." Mitch nodded, and gave her a sad smile. "Perhaps afterwards you'll sleep better. At least, I surely hope so."
"So do I."
Maybe, just maybe, she'd be okay, but he'd have to keep an eye on her. Mitch felt fairly certain Chrysine was the only truly sane member of his squad (even including himself) and he hoped she'd stay that way. "And after that, will you be ready to carry on, Chrysine?"
"Yes sir. I must. It is as Abraham Lincoln said: 'The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.'" She paused and gave him a weak smile. "Besides, in this case failure is not an option. This is not like the arena, where one might lose a match but still be able to try again later. Here, if we lose, we run the risk of everything we know being lost, including ourselves. We cannot... we shall not lose."
"Yes, this is very different. And no, we'll never give up. I only wish I had better advice for you. 'Eat, drink and be merry' must sound pretty weak." Mitch shrugged. "The point is, there's a time to mourn our dead, and a time to carry on the fight. But life goes on; your own time, and your peace of mind, belong to you, Chrysine. To let enemy take those away from you is a victory they don't deserve. Illegitimi non carborundum."
She quirked an ear at that and looked puzzled. "Sir, that is not real latin."
A broad grin spread across Mitch's face. "Not even close. But most people take it to mean 'Don't let the bastards grind you down.' Good advice, but I don't know the real latin."
Closing her eyes, she thought for a moment. "Noli nothis permittere te terere. I think."
"Well then, you just keep on thinking that, Chrysine. And please! Don't call me 'Sir' when we're off duty, okay?'
* * * * *